“Stay with me, Gilene,” he whispered in her ear.
“I can’t,” she murmured, still half asleep.
“I will conquer all of the Empire to bring you back.”
Reviewed by Angela
This was probably my most anticipated book this year. If you were to ask me to make a list of my favorite fantasy romances of all time, Grace Draven would have four or five titles in my top ten. She weaves captivating, magical romances set in complex, detailed worlds.
And Phoenix Unbound is this author’s best work to date.
For Gilene, spring was neither the season of rain nor of planting, but of suffering.
Gilene is a fire-witch, the only one in her small village, so every year when slavers from the Empire come to gather tithes for their Rites of Spring, she casts an illusion spell to change her appearance and marches toward the capital city. She knows what’s coming… her body offered as a plaything for the gladiators, and then fire, pain, and sacrifice. Only this time won’t be like all the rest and she won’t be going home when it’s over.
“Look at me,” he repeated in the same tone. His fingers curled around her jaw and pressed. She dragged her gaze to his, the drumming of her heartbeat making her chest hurt. He leaned closer, gripping her chin even harder to keep her still, eyes blazing in triumph.
“I know you,” he whispered.
Azarion is a slave and a gladiator. Betrayed by his family and sold into slavery, he has suffered and fought and endured pain and degradation at the hands of the empress. But he sees a chance at escape when he once again recognizes one of the women brought in as tithe for this year’s Rites of Spring. While her outward appearance is different, he sees through the illusion to the woman underneath. She is his way out, and he will do whatever he must in order to gain her cooperation.
Gilene doesn’t follow willingly, Azarion must force her to aid him in his escape. She has her own obligations to her village, knowing that if she doesn’t return, come next spring an innocent woman will be sent to the capital. Azarion wants her to stay with him to help find his clan and regain his birthright. They begin as enemies, at odds over Gilene’s fate, but it won’t be long before they see the beauty and strength in each other and fall in love.
She was the wide grass plains of the Sky Below, the horse herds grazing under the sun, the Savatar women singing as they felted, the flap of the clan flags atop the atamans’ tents. She was freedom made flesh, and in that moment, she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever beheld.
Gilene and Azarion have a wonderful enemies-to-lovers, slow-burn romance. I think one of my favorite things about Grace Draven’s love stories is the understanding, friendship, and support her main protagonists offer each other. She builds their relationships slowly and steadily, and there is so much honesty between her heroes and heroines. Her heroines always have such remarkable strength and her heroes so much loyalty and courage. Gilene and Azarion have this chemistry that radiates between them from the moment they meet and it evolves into a tender, passionate sexual relationship. Where there was distance and doubt between them at first, by the end they are united in affection and trust. Gah, I loved them together.
I’m not going to delve too deep into the plot or accidentally give away spoilers because this book really should be read with a clean slate for maximum enjoyment, but I will say that the world-building is amazing. AMAZING. Vast, magical, brutal, yet beautiful at the same time. I loved the portrayal of the Empire as the evil overlords who must be defeated. I adored Azarion’s clan and how much reverence and respect were afforded the Fire Council, who are all women. There was this epic feel to the story as Gilene and Azarion make plans join other clans and topple the Empire. Is there such a thing as epic fantasy romance? Because I feel like now there might be.
This is such a beautifully crafted love story. It will most definitely be on my top ten list at the end of the year. I’m on the edge of my seat in anticipation for the next book in the series. Highly recommend.
Final Grade- A